If Alison Wonderland can’t get you popping and locking (or twerking), then there’s little hope for you. A hectic wave of hard-hitting beats and addictive pop fillers, a Wonderland set is an expansive combination that knows no limit. The classically trained Sydney-sider steps far, far away from convention, choosing to incorporate a vast mix of soundscapes (the ultimate genre mutation).
Wonderland’s latest release Get Ready is oozing out of speakers at an alarming rate. Brazen rhythms reverberate your insides; dance is the only answer. I caught up with Alison to compare deep-seeded admirations for David Attenborough, her upcoming tour and favourite Beatles.
When did you first get into producing and mixing?
You know, it was a few years ago now. I kind of was DJing for myself because I loved it. I never really planned to become a DJ, so when I discovered it I would go to a lot of floor night sounds in Sydney and play some DJ sets around there and it was just for fun and because I loved it. I found it really interesting because if you don’t simplify it too much you can actually treat it like an instrument. That’s what kind of got me really into it. I just really liked learning how to work out different ways to mix- interesting ways – and mixing different genres. To me, that was really fun.
Have you always had a musical background?
Yeah, I actually was studying to become a cellist before the DJ thing. Somehow, this is where I ended up. I was in Europe studying cello and it was all pretty hardcore. I came back to Sydney and I think I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be in classical music. That’s when all this started.
Do you still play the cello at all?
My chops aren’t what they used to be, but on the record there is a track with me playing cello. I am kind of excited about that.
Do you sing?
Yeah, I don’t consider myself a singer, but I do sing on all the songs that I wrote on the album. When I started writing this record, I had all of these instrumentals ready and I was sending it out to all these other female singers. In my head, this record was going to be my production and guest vocalist. Unfortunately, at the beginning stages, no one really wanted to sing on the songs, so I was like, ‘alright I wrote them, I might as well sing them with my lyrics and my melody.’ I made sure I wrote it in a range that my voice fit as well (laughs).
What’s the story behind the name ‘Alison Wonderland’?
It’s a bit of an awkward story. That name was chosen because I had 5 minutes to pick a name to get on a poster. In my head, I was like, ‘I’ll just use this for a bit until I decide on a proper name’ and low and behold here we are. Still my name.
You’ve really taken off; did you expect it to be such a whirlwind?
I actually had been working on this kind of stuff for a long time. For me in my head I don’t really feel like anything has happened quickly. I guess to everyone else it has. I’m still pinching myself because I can’t believe I’m here. Maybe the whirlwind is more that this was never my plan and here I am. In that way, it’s pretty mental.
I saw you at Splendour, I don’t think I’ve been so brilliantly thrashed around in my life. How does it feel standing up there and seeing all of that?
It was good. I was really nervous. I’m not usually nervous when I play, but I ended up doing “Get Ready” live with rapping over it. It was the first time I’ve been able to play original tracks. It’s not just somebody else’s song and you’re not just mixing stuff with other peoples music. It’s something that has come from hard work and blood, sweat and tears. You’re finally playing it out and you get a bit nervous. I almost didn’t really want to look up. I was scared. What if no one was moving and I had cleared that dance floor (laughs). But, not it went really well and I couldn’t stop smiling when I was up there. It was crazy.
We were definitely moving (laughs).
When I told my friend Jack that I was interviewing you, he went out and bought an Adidas t-shirt for you to sign.
Oh my god!! I’m wearing one right now (laughs)! Tell him that we are twins today. I tend to wear way too much of that brand. They gave me like a stupid amount of t-shirts, but I love Adidas and I can’t really say no. I’ve been wearing their clothes for so long and they finally sent me some stuff and I was like, ‘yes, this is my wardrobe now!’
Do you like it on tour or do you prefer recording?
You know, I like a bit of both, but I can go stir crazy either way. I think writing and making music is a cheap therapy session in a weird way, it is good because it does help you have a bit of a release. But, touring’s also good because you’re crazy jumping up and down and going off other people’s energy’s. The one thing when I’m on tour, I really miss my own bed and that’s hard.
That’s what I miss most when I’m away.
I know right? It’s like, ‘I don’t even know what my bed feels like anymore’.
Tell me about your music making process:
I’m not really sure. It’s a bit of a blur. Sometimes I write with myself, sometimes I write with other people. You’re either sitting there by yourself and you wake up, open your eyes eight hours later and there’s a song and you’re like, ‘ what the hell? When did that happen?’ Or like youre writing with someone and at the end of the day you’re sitting there like, ‘I can’t believe we just made this, how did we even make this? When did this happen?’ It’s a weird process. I think, for me, I just go into this really weird blur land.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Yeah, I like to be by myself actually. I just jump up and down. I get really quiet. That’s my ritual. And I have to be chewing green gum!
What do you do when you’re not making music?
Hang out with my dog.
What kind of dog do you have?
A small, cute, slightly overweight one. Don’t tell her that, I don’t want to give her an eating disorder.
If you could pick any artist, dead or alive, to play a show with, who would it be?
George Harrison. He’s my favourite Beatle and I just really love him so much. That means I would get to meet him.
Best live act you’ve ever seen?
David Attenborough. I went last year, I saw him speak not this tour, but the one before. Amazing!
I just saw him this year when he came!
How awesome was he? I just walked out of there feeling happy. Like the world was awesome. I love him. I wish he could read me bedtime stories or direct my life. Either or.
You’re about to head off on your ‘Get Ready’ tour, are you excited? Anyone cool joining you?
For my Melbourne and Sydney shows I have Willow Beats and LDRU supporting me. I’m sure everyone who is playing this tour is very cool. I pushed really hard to have Willow Beats and LDRU on those shows and so I am really excited about them.
Alison Wonderland – “Get Ready”
Dreams and Devotion: An interview with Strung Out’s Jason Cruz
For Strung Out’s Jason Cruz, art is more than just the music he’s known for. It’s the dreams and emotions he writes and paints as well.
For almost 30 years, Jason Cruz has been synonymous with the art he’s been crafting. That art of course, is his work as songwriter and vocalist for Simi Valley melodic punk rock outfit Strung Out, who since 1990, have been writing hard-hitting, emotionally-charged music that became part of the wave that brought punk’s into the mainstream consciousness in the mid-1990s. Strung Out’s three albums of that decade, 1994’s Another Day in Paradise, 1996’s Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues, and 1998’s Twisted By Design, proved to be the perfect answer to those who sought out the deeper underground of punk that bellowed below the surface of Green Day’s Dookie and Offspring’s Smash.
For many listeners like myself, Strung Out and many of their Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph brethren meant a world of new music wrapped in the subcultures of skateboarding, surfing, punk attitudes, and a vibrant urgency that echoed sounds of rebellion and independence. While pop culture acceptance for just about any form of art and music seems fleeting, Strung Out have never wavered from what they do; now three decades into their history and nine albums deep into an ever-impressive catalog. Songs of Armor and Devotion is perhaps the band’s finest work since they first burst onto the scene. Composed, yet still breathing fire, its tracks still exhibits that “debut album energy” but comes with the benefit of the wisdom of touring, writing, and experiencing the world three decades over.
However, for Jason Cruz, art is more than just Strung Out. He has quietly and not so quietly been honing his craft as an artist and a painter, coming to light on a musical front by painting the cover art to his band’s 2011 “Best Of” album Top Contenders: The Best of Strung Out, and NOFX’s 2013 EP Stoke Extinguisher. But one look at the wide spectrum of art he’s painted and you can see that it’s more than just album covers. His painted work, like his music, seems to come from the same passion and emotion that drives his lyrics and songwriting. Now he embarks on a new chapter as a children’s book writer, taking inspiration from his daughter to write There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams, a bedtime story born in dreams.
We spoke to Cruz not long after the release of the band’s new album to talk about the long-lasting influence of Strung Out and to discuss his art and how they share the same creative head space. We also spoke about his upcoming art exhibit and his new book and the toll and triumphs of the tour cycle.
Congrats on Songs of Armor and Devotion. It’s stellar work; how do you all feel about the release and response to the record?
Cruz: I’m glad people are digging the tunes. I’m anxious to get em out on the road and see what they turn into. See if I can keep up with RJ. It feels like another new level to explore.
But you’ve been busy with a lot of projects- tell us a little bit about the children’s book you have written? It was inspired by your daughter?
Cruz: The book is called There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams and it’s basically a bedtime story. My daughter just spoke the title one day as we hangin’ out having one of our talks and it stuck. I thought it was the most beautiful thing she ever said.
What’s the story of the book?
Cruz: It is basically a bedtime story trying to explain to a kid what the hell dreams are and how cool they can be. How the adventures you dream at night can only pale to the ones that await you when you wake kinda thing.
How long did it take to write and create the book?
Cruz: I worked on the story, which is more like a poem, and all the illustrations for just over two years. Anywhere I could set up and draw. In between shows, on planes, at the desk at home, wherever. Once I told the kid I was gonna do this book she made sure to ride me pretty hard about getting it done so she could take it to school and read it to the class.
What’s the approach like writing the book in comparison to writing songs for a new Strung Out record?
Cruz: Pretty similar process I guess since they both involve rhythm, flow and the use of imagery and imagination. With a song, it’s a collaborative process. Each member adds an element to construct this thing. With the book, it was all me. Inventing as I went along until I had enough elements to unify the idea as a whole. It’s a lot harder flying blind like that. I guess I kept this first attempt as simple as possible for that reason.
Where can we buy the new book?
Cruz: All the usual modern day outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Baby. It will also be available on my site as well.
I’m looking at some of your art and I like how different the pieces are. For instance, the difference in emotion, style with pieces like “Choke”, “Rise & Fall”, and “Church Fix”. What are some of the things that inspire your art and what were some of the inspirations behind these pieces?
Cruz: Oh I guess just the love of doing is what really inspires me. To be an artist. To challenge myself. To learn my craft and grow. I could never stick to a certain style or look very long because I’m just too moody I guess. I need the freedom to move around and explore. Always trying ‘get it right’ whatever that means.
Is creating art a completely private and solo process for you?
Cruz: Completely. I guess that’s why it can be so maddening at times and so fulfilling at the same time. Like what nerve do I have to even attempt this?!?! What is this whole art thing?!?! Is this good?!?! And somewhere in between all that doubt, there is joy and fun. Problem solving and improvisation.
What are some of the things when looking back at this 20+ year career with Strung Out do you hold as the most important to you? Is it the records? The consistency with the work or the influence you’ve had for listeners around the globe?
Cruz: To be able to keep living my life in a such a way is all I can ever hope for. Making true connections. As long as I am a good person, as long as I am good to my muse and never take anything for granted and always be awake and alive I am grateful.
Is there one album you look back as particularly important to the band and yourself? Say one that you felt like thing were heading in the right direction?
Cruz: For me, I’d have to say it was the pseudo acoustic record we did called Black Out the Sky. That record was super important in our development as a band and as human beings. It kinda loosened any restraints we thought we had and really showed our fans and ourselves the possibilities of our union as a whole.
I’ve always loved Suburban Teenage and Twisted By Design because I think both records hit at the right time for me (I grew up in Indonesia and discovering your music was a big part in who I was and am); plus I learned that bands could hit hard just as much as they sang with emotion- but I think Songs of Armor and Devotion is very much in the same vein. What was the songwriting process like for Songs of Armor… and when did you guys start writing the record?
Cruz: It all happened really quick. Once we set aside the time to write and record we wasted no time and the ideas all came very fast and effortlessly – for the most part. We had a lot of ‘pent up‘ energy and angst I guess you say.
I love the song “Crows”- did you feel like it was a great stand-alone song- were there reasons why you didn’t want to put it on a record?
Cruz: Who knows? Looking back I don’t even remember. It seemed like it didn’t really fit anywhere but it was too good to just let go, so yeah, that song is kinda like a sad pretty little island.
You’ve got an exhibit coming up in October that will showcase your art and your new children’s book. Is the process of creating a new exhibit the same for you as say, planning an upcoming tour? What can we look forward to at the exhibit?
Cruz: Luckily I have help from some really great people. I’ll be painting up until the last minute so any and all help is greatly needed and appreciated. Along with the illustrations from the book I will also have on display a series of new oil paintings.
Steve Caballero is also part of the exhibit, was it a natural process working together with Steve on this? How did this come together?
Cruz: Steve is a blossoming artist and a great human being. I guess I just got extremely lucky on this one.
Strung Out have a North American tour coming up with The Casualties. How’s life on the road these days, are you guys all still enjoying being on the road?
Cruz: Ask me that on the last week of the tour and you’ll get a different answer than now.
I got to see you guys twice the last couple of times you were down in Australia; will we see you here sometime next year?
Cruz: Yes, I believe something big is in the works for Spring.
Do you have a road map for the next few years or are you happy with playing things as they come?
Cruz: It’s more a map of the ocean and I am chained to the wheel.
Jason Cruz’s Fine Art Exhibition and children’s book launch takes place Friday, October 25th, 2019 at the Copro Nason Gallery in Los Angeles. Tickets can be booked here. More information can be found on Jason Cruz’s official website. Strung Out’s new album, Songs of Armor and Devotion, is out now on Fat Wreck Chords.
All Work and All Play: An interview with The Drowns
The Drowns prove that having the right work ethic goes a long way
It’s been a busy year for Seattle punks The Drowns. The band, whose individual histories stretch back some 20 years, are a rough and tumble blend of street punk bravado and positive attitude that found its footing with their 2018 debut album View From the Bottom. With tours, festivals, and new music already checked off in 2019, The Drowns put the “work” in working class rock n’ roll with no rest in sight. Fresh off the release of a new 7″ titled The Sound, the band are prepping for their first ever Japanese tour in October and are working on their new full-length album due in the near future.
On top of the globe trotting, the band will take part in this year’s Rock The Ship Festival, their label’s annual punk rock escapade on the high seas, anchoring a lineup that includes noted bands like Cock Sparrer, CJ Ramone, and Subhumans. We spoke to vocalist Aaron Rev about the new 7″, the terrific street punk anthem “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier”, and what they’re looking forward to next to cap off an already packed 2019.
I really enjoyed the new 7”- how has the reception been, and how are you guys feeling about these new songs?
Rev: Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. So far, so good. The reception has been incredible. And we love the new songs. We just got back from a month and a half tour, and the new jams went over great.
It sounds like the band is very in tune right now and that things have continued to go strong since the debut album?
Rev: Totally. We also have a pretty intense work ethic, so right when we are finished with something we are already working on what’s next. Just keeping the ball rolling.
The songs on the new 7” SOUND amazing- where did you guys record and produce the record?
Rev: We working with our brother Jesse O’Donnell from the band Noi!se at his studio the Autopsy Room in beautiful Tacoma WA. Working with Jesse was great. He’s a great guy, and a great engineer. He’s really got an ear for this type of music, and he pours his heart in to it.
What’s the story behind “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier”?
Rev: I live in the south end of Seattle. Years ago I moved to a neighborhood called Georgetown. It was incredible. Tons of artists living in a kind of shitty area, just for cheap rent so they could keep creating. When I’d first moved there, it really was one of the greatest points in my life. I was surrounded by incredible people who inspired me to create. But, we all started to see the gentrification coming, because nothing that great could last forever. The Georgetown neighborhood has a huge building in the middle of it called Rainier Cold Storage, where they used to make and store Rainier Beer. They ended up tearing part of the building down, and for me that symbolized the beginning of the end of what we had. When they were tearing it down, I broke in at night and stole some bricks for the old building, and when I have them around, they serve as reminders to carry the spirit of what we once had along with me wherever I go.
You’ve been playing a bunch of shows over the last few months- how have they been? How are these new songs translating to the live setting?
Rev: The shows have been CRAZY! We’ve gotten tons of support and a great reception to all of the new material. It was a killer tour.
For those who may not be familiar yet, share with us a little history of the Drowns.
Rev: We were all friends in different bands, and we’ve all been in the game for 15-20 years a piece. Our respective bands started to slow down, so we all decided to start a project together. Also, not many bands we knew of were playing the style we wanted to play. So we got together, started writing, and just haven’t stopped.
Are you guys splitting time between Seattle and LA?
Rev: Our drummer Jake lives in LA so we just fly him back and fourth to accommodate, and we head down there. With the internet, it’s surprisingly easy to keep a long distance band going these days.
Speaking of Seattle, I saw on your Twitter that some of you were at a Sounders game- is soccer the sport of choice for The Drowns?
Rev: Totally. Huge soccer fans. MLS and Premier League. Some of us are big hockey fans too.
It’s funny because I felt that “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier” has that stadium anthem feel to it (at least in my head), that its a great song for thousands of people to sing together.
Rev: Hell ya. I’ve worked with the Sounders in the past with my old band. I’d live to have The Downs work with them. It’d be a perfect fit.
Pirates Press has been releasing some great music this year; you guys are in great company. What were some of the reasons for choosing Pirates Press as the new home for your music?
Rev: First and foremost, they are incredible people over there. You be hard pressed to find any other label active right now that gives a shit as much as they do. They are hands on, they are passionate, and they care about the bands, and the music, and the fans. They are truly a great example of how a label should be run.
You were at Punk Rock Bowling this year- how was it? It’s such a massive looking festival from the outside- Did you guys have fun?
Rev: It was KILLER! The lineup this year was insane. The setup of the festival this year was perfect. And, we were crazy surprised when we started playing at 3:30pm and right after we hit that opening chord and turned around, there was a sea of people! We felt so humbled by how many people cane to see us. It was insane.
Are there already plans for a new full-length to follow View From the Bottom? What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Rev: We are definitely always working. So you can bet that you’ll hear about new material soon. But for now, we are going to hit Europe and Japan later this year. And keep on moving.